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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: “Justin Bieber”

Justin Bieber SNL
NBC

After Adam Levine’s terrible performance as host a couple of weeks ago, can Justin Bieber turn things around and make us all “Beliebers” on this week’s ‘SNL‘? (Sorry, we’ll never use that word again.)

Superbowl Blackout

Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharaoh, Jason Sudeikis and Tim Robinson are the commentators during the Superbowl blackout, and Taran Killam is the on-field reporter with nothing to add because blackouts are non-eventful. The guys don’t have much to say, so they keep providing far-reaching speculation about what the blackout means for both teams and promoting ’2 Broke Girls’ because they aren’t sure what else to do. And then there’s this amazingly weird cutaway to Bill Hader in a commercial for a dancer-for-hire because they ran out of “proper commercials.” Things really pick up when the guys start asking existential questions like, “If the clock in the stadium stops, do we stop aging,” questioning each other’s personal lives, and talking about Ray Lewis. This cold open is so-so, with the only real highlights being Killam and Hader.

Monologue

Justin Bieber wants to celebrate that sexy time of the year when we also honor black history, so he serenades women in the audience with roses while telling them facts about black history. Kenan Thompson is on hand to fact-check Bieber on things like “Black people invented the Kwanzaa” and “Maya Angelou invented the peanut.” Bieber plays up his naivete to solid effect, and we get a surprise visit from Whoopi Goldberg. They really should stop inviting such awesome comedic talent to help boost the opening monologues of iffy hosts. It just makes me wish Whoopi was hosting instead. But I’ll give Bieber a chance. He can’t be as bad as Adam Levine, right? RIGHT?! So far, so good. The kid’s got undeniable charisma.

The Californians

Oh good, the sketch that ran out of steam when Kristen Wiig left has returned. Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are joined by Cecily Strong, who provides a little fresh air — but not much. I feel like they’re really exaggerating their pronunciation this time around instead of just leaning on the old driving directions gimmick. I will admit I giggled at “mahrried” and “sepia charcoal drawings of canyons.” Bieber plays a young skateboarder, and I’m not sure he understands the difference between a British accent and a bleached-out Californian one. If anything, his weird accent combined with the bleached wig just make him look like a young Charlie Hunnam. The Californians is the kind of sketch where it seems like the cast are the only ones enjoying it. Sure, the audience is laughing a lot, but I chalk that up to the live comedy performance phenomenon: when you see something live, you’re more inclined to laugh because other people are laughing. There’s an immediacy to what’s happening, and you feel as if you’re a part of it. You’re happy to be there, so you laugh at things that you probably wouldn’t find funny on television at home.

Justin Bieber at Madison Square Garden

After a performance at Madison Square Garden, Bieber’s security guard (Sudeikis) introduces a line of body doubles, played by everyone on the cast. The Bieber doubles try to prove that they’re up to snuff — Armisen does “the heart” move, Hader does the winking, and Aidy Bryant does some hilarious crotch-grabbing. Bieber gets to sing and dance a bit, driving the ladies in the audience wild… and then he pulls up his shirt, which makes me feel weird because isn’t he like, 16? Stop it. Go do some homework, Biebs.

Moynihan can seriously dance, though, huh?

Kate McKinnon drops in with her Ellen impression, with Bieber mistaking her as his most-convincing clone. The sketch ends with a nod to ‘The Bodyguard.’

The Moroccans of Mulholland Drive

A pre-recorded bit about a new Bravo reality show, poking fun at the various and unnecessary spin-offs based on the thinnest gimmicks, like a gay bear limo driver and a show about Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter’s friends who own a smoothie shop. The best one is “The Sh–heads of Salzburg,” about Austrian douche bags bro-types, played by Bill Hader, Taran Killam, and Justin Bieber. Maybe I’m an easy mark for this because on an episode of Comedy Central’s ‘Kroll Show’ he also had a bit making fun of vague European types with similar accents (you should definitelty find it on YouTube and thank me later) that killed me and opened me up to a very specific kind of comedy.

As usual, this pre-recorded bit is a winner and has a little bit of something for everyone.

Weekend Update

Vanessa Bayer and Fred Armisen stop by as the best friends of King Richard III, here to defend his notoriously tyrannical behavior, but as usual, they end up whisper-gossiping the truth about him and back-tracking when confronted. It’s a redundant bit, but one that’s always pretty reliable thanks to Armisen and Bayer’s pitch-perfect delivery.

For what it’s worth, I would totally watch the hell out of a Madea ‘Star Wars’ movie.

Up next is Corey (Kenan Thompson), the one black guy in every commercial, to provide commentary on the Superbowl commercials. The character is commercially enthusiastic and apparently has to high-five every five seconds or he dies. The specificity of commercial examples — like playing Pringles cans like drums or walking down the street while eating popcorn chicken with friends — is on-point, but the comedy here is pretty safe, relying solely on viewer familiarity with commercials.

Grease Rip-Off

Cecily Strong is Angie and Justin Bieber is Billy, with the rest of the cast providing support in this sketch, which is actually called “Grease Rip-Off.” Aidy Bryant is seriously cracking me up by pointing out how dumb Bieber is to Strong. And no surprise that Bieber plays a good dummy who thinks that “sweater puppies” is a literal term and gets scared when he thinks a tree is a witch. There’s an end bit where Bieber says, “You know I’m 11,” and Strong replies, “I’m good with that,” and it’s so deliciously self-aware that I wonder if the grown women in the audience are blushing for having a crush on a teenager. And with that final line, you can sort of see the genesis of this sketch, making it even better in retrospect.

The Miley Cyrus Show

Finally! Vanessa Bayer’s Miley Cyrus returns, y’all! She even has the updated “pretty cool” hair cut. Sudeikis is back as Billy Ray Cyrus, whose hair cut mirrors his daughter’s. Bayer starts off by trying to deliver a mature joke: “What’s brown, round and between two cheeks? …A butthole!” Bieber is the president of Miley’s fan club, Pete DeFalco, and he’s still doing that awful Californian accent, only this time it’s gotten a little country. Apparently Bieber only knows two acting styles: himself, and dumber version of himself with a bad accent that fluctuates between British and surfer.

Thank goodness for Vanessa Bayer because Justin Bieber is not very good. He’s not Adam Levine-terrible, but he’s pretty bad.

Eddie

Nasim Pedrad is a southern girl named Heather who brings her boyfriend (Bieber) home to meet her family, including her weird brother Eddie. Taran Killam dominates the sketch as a bonehead who picks on Bieber for accidentally saying “glice” instead of “glad” or “nice.” He’s the kind of doucher that finds one thing funny about you and just harps and harps and harps on it. It’s a one-note sketch, and I’m starting to see a pattern emerge: whenever they have a host of questionable acting talent (a singer), they tend to go for these sketches that are very one-dimensional and sort of easy to deliver. I’m onto you, ‘SNL.’

A Sexy Valentine’s Day Message From Justin Bieber

Uh oh. A pre-recorded bit with Bieber acting all sexy with champagne, roses, satin sheets, and “sexy dice.” The gag is that he’s got his friend Taco (Bobby Moynihan) hanging around and living with him in footie-pajamas. Taco reminds me of Andy Samberg’s Shy Ronnie, so I’d definitely be okay with more Taco appearances in the future. Wish I could say the same for Bieber, though I do appreciate how ‘SNL’ is riffing on his sexualization.

Also, I’ve been informed that Bieber is almost 19. Ladies, please carry on, but still know that we’re all aware that you’ve been looking at this boy like he’s a cheeseburger since before he was legal.

Booker T. Washington Valentine’s Day Dance

The final sketch is always the strangest, so it speaks volumes that they’d go with the Booker T. Washington sketch, considering that it’s usually a pretty safe bet for laughs. Jay Pharaoh is the principal, delivering special announcements during the Booker T. Washington cafeteria dance. Justin Bieber is a dorky student council president, and he’s not doing the saliva-heavy dork voice very well. He sounds sort of like a Minnesotan with a mental disorder.

It’s become clear to me that the ‘SNL’ writers clearly know when they’ve been handed a crappy host. They lean heavier on the basic improv 101 stuff to provide a comfortable environment for the host, but it costs the show a ton of laughs. ‘SNL’ often succeeds when it dares to go really weird (except for “The Californians” — weird things stop being weird after you’ve done them, like, 20 times) — characters like Dooneese and Stefon get laughs because they’re eccentric and wacky and not afraid of going big. When they’ve got a host like Adam Levine or Justin Bieber, they seem to rely too heavily on what’s tried and true to get them through the night. Hopefully with Christoph Waltz hosting next week we’ll see something a little more daring, and, with any luck, funnier.

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